They are a band that mastered a lot of the sounds that people dig on around Denver, the Front Range, and into the mountain towns. They nail the insurgent country, honky-tonk, and rockabilly heard in some of the venues around the southern stretch of Broadway, and hint at the jam bands when they stretch out on a Grateful Dead tune, letting their guitar or pedal steel player extend a solo, and more importantly, reel it back in to keep the jam-haters from hating. And though not part of the group of bands that get rattled off when discussing Bob Ferbrache and “The Denver Sound,” they are very much adept at the dark and gothic country thing that can get rowdy and weird.
Denver’s always had a killer and diverse music scene, which includes a scene where bands are putting their own independent stamp on American country music. This includes Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams, a Front Range-based outfit that is moving towards their 15th year of flying a flag of their own brand of country and western.
Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams will play Thursday, June 29, in Buckley Park, as part of the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College’s free concert series.
It’s a band of beautiful irreverence. The music is at times lyrically funny, played over stomping melodies that reveals a Texas dance-hall vibe, delivered hand-in-hand with the darkness of a murder ballad or an aggressive instrumental. There are loads of originals penned by frontman Wofford that come right alongside blues, swing, or country covers. Wofford’s own tunes fit within a canonical set-list made of songs from Haggard, Jennings, the senior Williams, and Bob Wills.
They’re a hell of a band; Wofford a great frontman that can croon, yodel, and yell, backed by Ben O’Connor on bass, Brett Billings on pedal steel, drummer Damon Smith, and guitar player Greg Schochet.
Schochet had been playing mandolin in the early ’90s with The Wingnuts and then Runaway Truck Ramp when he started drinking from the classic-country fountain. An audition with the Hi*Beams revealed that his future bandmates dug on country as much as he.
“They were experienced musicians steeped in it,” said Schochet. “Halden grew up in Fort Worth and had known country music his whole life. Brett Billings has been playing steel guitar in country bands professionally since he was 19, and I could feel that when I first saw them. I think I had listened deeply enough to the greats and various styles and I understood that these guys had, too.”
Seeing them is an exercise in American roots music and country rock. There’s no reason why Williams, Bill Monroe, Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia, or Leadbelly would not approve of this bands approach.
“We’re all students of the music. And in 14 years we’ve certainly grown beyond just a sort of museum band as it were, recreating the kind of music that we love,” said Schochet. “We put some stamps on it; we let it grow, and expanded our influences, too. We play hard and fast sometimes, too, so if you’re a fan of Leftover Salmon or some of the younger, jammy grass bands, we scratch that itch also because we like to play fast. It’s not stodgy old music.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.